update your employee handbook

5 essential updates to keep your employee handbook current

Outdated policies can not only cause confusion among your employees, but they can also leave your business vulnerable to disruptive and expensive litigation.

So, how can you keep your employee handbook policies relevant to modern society and the current interpretations of the law?

Here are five updates you should consider making to your employee handbook.

1. Local, state and federal compliance policies

You should always monitor local, state and federal laws to make sure any changes are reflected in your policies. Although many laws are static, there are some changes that occur year to year.

For example, say you have a “use it or lose it” PTO policy that doesn’t allow employees to carry over unused vacation time from one year to the next. That wouldn’t work in California because “use it or lose it” PTO policies are illegal there. If taken to court, it’s possible the court could rule that you owe vacation pay and other damages to employees who were not allowed to use vacation time from previous years.

Additionally, many cities and states are implementing mandatory sick time leave. If someone is denied sick time in a city or state where it’s mandatory, fines or litigation may be expected.

2. Dress code policy

In the past, a dress code policy might’ve been the longest policy in a handbook. Today, many companies have reduced it to simply say employees should dress “business casual.”

This is due to the fact that, over time, professional attire has become more relaxed as new generations come into the workforce and bring their own style. From suits and ties to jeans and baseballs caps, dress codes are frequently becoming more casual as employers are less worried about what employees wear and more focused on how they’re performing.

A more general dress code policy also allows companies to be as inclusive as possible about appearance. You don’t want, for example, to say that women can wear certain styles that men cannot, which could alienate employees (including transgender ones) and potentially lead to a discrimination lawsuit.

There’s a fine line when it comes to creating dress code policy. Keep in mind that policies should not reflect your personal beliefs but adhere to established legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons for your dress code policy.

3. Social media policy

It’s tough to distinguish what employees can and cannot say on social media about their employer.

Additionally, social media and how it’s being used is changing quickly. While a Facebook or Twitter post can stay up indefinitely, a Snapchat post disappears in 24 hours. This makes monitoring your employees’ comments and your company’s online reputation increasingly difficult.

In your social media policy, be clear about your expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable employee use of social media as it relates to the company. This provides some recourse if an employee uses social media inappropriately in a professional sense. But, also keep in mind that purely personal use of social media cannot be controlled by you as an employer when an employee is not at work.

For example, can an employee say something negative about the company on Facebook? Can an employee harass another employee using Facebook?

You should develop a general policy that states that use of social media should be done in a responsible manner while avoiding the harassment of others.

You may also wish to restrict how employees use social media while at work. For example, you might set a policy that says employees should only use social media for work-related activities on work time or while using company-provided equipment.

Keep in mind that you should have separate policies for those who handle your company’s social media accounts. Moderators should have direction on how to represent your brand responsibly while also being provided with guidance on how to respond to online trolls.

4. Cell phone policy

With increasing crossover between the use of personal and work phones, the lines are more blurry than ever between what may or may not constitute appropriate cell phone use.

For example, even if phone plan costs are reimbursed by the company, a work phone is not the property of the company unless it was issued directly by your company to the employee. Therefore, if you suspect the phone is being inappropriately used, you cannot ask an employee to hand over the phone as you investigate because it’s technically their  personal property.

Make sure your policy fits your culture and how you want employees to use your equipment. If your company culture calls for more control over the use of these devices, you may want to issue the phones through the company (rather than reimbursing employees for personal phone plans) for increased control over how the phones are used.

Finally, in your cell phone policy, if it’s not included already, make it clear that for safety purposes, employees should never text and drive.

5. Drug policy

Has marijuana been legalized in areas where your business operates?

If you operate a business in one of the cities or states where this change has occurred, you might wonder how you monitor use and make sure employees aren’t smoking marijuana during work time.

If your business is in one of these areas, consider updating your policy. One way to address this is to say that while marijuana use might be legal, it’s still prohibited in the workplace, much like alcohol, because it impairs your employees’ ability to do their jobs.

Get started

Consider reviewing these areas of your handbook each year while doing a full audit at least every two years.

To keep up with ever-evolving regulatory updates, check city and state government websites for local information, or look to the EEOC or the ADA for more resources as you develop your policies.

For more guidance on HR compliance-related issues, download our free e-book, Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?

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